I Got the Message: Crisis Communications Part 3

Developing your firm’s response to a crisis: Targeting and Channels

In the earlier posts in this series, I wrote about timing and message when it comes to developing crisis communications. In this post, we’ll look at targeting and channels.

Just like we don’t want to over-alarm clients with the message of the communication, we also want to take that approach with targeting. What I mean by that is—when at all possible—aim to communicate to those clients who are directly impacted by the incident or crisis. The best case is a list of impacted clients with a 100% confidence in accuracy and completeness. Unfortunately, in many cases, you won’t have the exact data set—in that situation, better to err on being more inclusive than less. A couple of other considerations on targeting:

  1. Who are you required to communicate to? Depending on the nature of the crisis, there may be specific regulations and laws about who needs to receive the communication. For example, if it is a data incident, and only partial account or SSN numbers were compromised versus whole, you may have some flexibility (check with your legal and compliance folks!).
  2. Do you communicate to all names on the account? Your firm may already have some general “rules” set up about at what level you send your communications, for example, the primary client level (perhaps the first registered or main name on the account) or the account level (all names on the account). Keep in mind that if you mail at the account level, and your client has more than one account number, they may get multiple communications.

When it comes to a decision about what communications channels you’re going to use, again, part of that decision will be driven by the applicable regulations. In some situations, you’ll need to demonstrate that a “reasonable attempt” was used to ensure that the impacted recipients received the communication. In general though, here are some channel considerations that I’ve seen come up over the years:

  1. Social Media: Yes, you need to pay attention to this one. If something goes wrong (e.g. with client access, their ability to trade, or account reporting, etc.) there’s a good chance that an angry client is going to take to the social media sphere. Having a response prepared is a good idea (especially when you need to make sure it is 140 characters long and pre-approved). Also, if the issue has large impact (the good majority of your client base) you may want to be proactive on your own social media channels.
  2. Your website: Don’t forget your own website—you may want to post a message on the client login page or use any of your built in alert notifications or push notifications to mobile devices.
  3. Outbound Calls: Making an outbound call can be one of the best ways to communicate to a client about an incident or crisis. Obviously, this may only be possible when the impact is limited. But it can be very effective particularly in complex situations. A personal call also helps to further establish relationship, and build (or re-build, if needed) trust.
  4. Email: Using email is often the quickest way to get a message out to clients (assuming you have a clean email distribution list that is ready to go at a moment’s notice). Good to keep in mind though that open rates will vary (some benchmarks indicate 20 – 35%). It is unlikely that you’ll reach everyone you need to, which makes email a good companion to another channel, such as direct mail—you gain the immediacy of email, but also the assurance that sending a letter will improve the chances of readership. Oh, and remember that email can be forwarded. If you include something like a free credit monitoring offer code, it may make the rounds (same in the case of social media).
  5. Direct mail: Good old USPS. In some situations, you’ll be required to send a physical letter to impacted clients. Even if a mailed letter isn’t required, it still may be a good idea. Not all clients have email or online access, and the longer form that a letter can take can be helpful in complex situations that require more detail, and next steps for the clients.

I hope this 3-part series has given you some food for thought in the realm of crisis communications, and how your company might respond when the need comes up. Of course, I’m happy to help answer any questions, or discuss some of your specific communications planning needs. And if you got all of the music references in the series, you could win a copy of Seth Godin’s Your Turn. Email me your response and be the first to get all of the references to receive Seth’s book in the mail.